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First Chicago Marathon after Boston bombing uses new safeguards, but the street party carries on

Published: Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 10:13 a.m. CST

CHICAGO (MCT) — The Bank of America Chicago Marathon was run without incident Sunday as tighter but by no means suffocating security did little to scare off runners or subdue the raucous street party bubbling along the 26.2-mile racecourse.

Police and event organizers instituted new safety measures after the bombings that marred April's Boston Marathon, but the essential character of the race remained unchanged. Some runners and spectators said they were grateful for the heightened scrutiny, while others said they barely noticed it.

"It's good that you don't see the presence because that makes people uncomfortable," said Kelly Kane, who was cheering on runners in Old Town with few uniformed police officers in sight.

As of Sunday evening, Chicago police had reported no serious trouble during the bright and brisk morning. George Chiampas, the race's medical director, said 750 people requested medical attention and 26 were transported to hospitals, though none appeared to be critical.

The marathon's safeguards were evident before the race even began, with a sign near the runners' check-in cautioning participants not to wear "costumes covering the face or non-formfitting bulky outfits."

Runners had to carry their belongings in clear plastic bags provided by race organizers, and police set up watchtowers near Buckingham Fountain to keep an eye on the record 40,230 athletes assembling in Grant Park.

Shannon Seiferth, of Chicago, said she had thought about the Boston bombings before arriving at the starting gate but had full confidence that she would be safe.

"I think the security measures are in place, and I think people are going to be on high alert," she said. Rolling Meadows resident Michelle Thomas, who was in her first marathon after taking up running in January, said she, too, was at peace.

"I prayed this morning," she said. "(With the) security that I've seen throughout the entire week, I feel very comfortable. So this is for Boston."

Once the race began at 7:30 a.m., the runners wound through city streets guarded by police officers in neon yellow vests, FBI agents in military-style fatigues and undercover cops. Police were especially noticeable in the Loop, with at least one officer at every intersection, a show of force that reassured spectators like Belinda Musgrave.

"You always think about safety because you never expect (violence), but I haven't felt uncomfortable at all," said Musgrave, who had come from Houston to cheer on her friend Rhonda Kersgieter. "They seem to have everything under control."

Other precautions were also evident. Newspaper boxes vanished in some parts of the city, and the large, compacting trash cans in the Loop were sealed shut, leading spectators to pile their coffee cups on top. A police dog, wearing a patch that read, "DO NOT PET," patrolled the finish line with an officer from the Department of Homeland Security.

But the strictness of course security varied by neighborhood. In Greektown, crowd control barriers prevented spectator Maxine Jones, of Country Club Hills, from jogging alongside friends in the race.

"It wasn't so secured" in years past, Jones said. "(Now) you can't run out and say, 'Hi.'" In Old Town, though, no barriers prevented onlookers such as Kristi Summers from weaving through groups of runners to cross the street, or from briefly joining friends on the course.

"We've totally done that at least three times," she said.

That pointed to what some security experts have called the impossibility — and undesirability — of completely buttoning down a sprawling, urban marathon route. Police asked spectators and runners alike to be vigilant, but that didn't appear to alter the spirit of the race, embodied in people such as Aimee Shuey.

The New Orleans resident had come with more than a dozen others to join a 61-year-old friend who was running her first marathon. Doing a high-profile race in the shadow of Boston made Shuey a little anxious, but she said her friend wasn't fazed at all.

"She's nervous about finishing the race more than anything," Shuey said at the 12-mile mark.

As runners neared the end, the traditional agonies of the marathon were much more apparent than any security worries. One participant lay on the curb in Bronzeville, less than 3 miles from the finish line, before struggling to his feet and walking north.

"His legs cramped up, and he kind of went down," said Bob Arendt, a spectator from Chicago. "We got him some water and encouraged him on."

Regina Walton, of Forest Park, was stationed at the 24-mile mark to cheer on members of the Kingdom Running Club, which helps novices prepare for long-distance races.

"It's a faith walk for many of them," she said. "Then you look back and see there's nothing impossible."

Once they crossed the finish line, some runners reflected on what the experience meant after the violence of Boston. Dan Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University who has researched long-distance running, finished the race in Boston before the bombs exploded and said the event is more than simply an athletic feat.

"I think we run to make the world a better place," said Lieberman, flanked by his wife and daughter after finishing Sunday's race. "I think running is all about community and charity and fitness."

Some spectators said they were disappointed that the final stretch of the course, which previously had a section of bleachers open to the public, this year was restricted to fans who had tickets distributed by various charities.

Clara Santucci, an elite runner from Dilliner, Pa., whose ninth-place finish was the best among American women, said she, too, hoped for better public access at key points of the race.

"I understand ... the need for security," she said. "I just hope they can figure out (a solution) so spectators aren't kept from being able to see the most exciting parts of the race, like the start and the finish. It's what our sport is all about, and I don't want that taken away from us."

Asked whether officials might seek to increase public access, race director Carey Pinkowski said such decisions would be made only after consulting with the city and police.

Dathan Ritzenhein, of Portland, Ore., the fifth-place finisher who was tops among American men, said that even with the heightened sense of vigilance, this year's marathon was better than ever.

"I don't think what happened in Boston has had a negative effect," he said. "Maybe it has had a positive effect. It has brought the running community a little closer."

• Tribune reporters Philip Hersh contributed.

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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